Clara Elser “The Love Song of Tonya Harding”
Gabrielle DeCristofaro • August 19, 2017 • 2017 Boulder International Fringe Festival •
I left “The Love Song of Tonya Harding” wanting to go home and YouTube Tonya Harding and the triple axel. The inherently dark story discusses less the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, and more of Tonya’s own tragic tale. From her victimhood as a child, into her young adulthood as a world-class athlete on an international stage. Performed by Clara Elser as Tonya, the story takes place in 2014 at an Olympic viewing party at Trident (or wherever she happens to be performing), 20 years after the infamous attack on Kerrigan.
The recurring Olympics reminds her each time of the 1994 Games, and she is clearly disheveled. Tonya is drinking onstage while telling her tale. Her hair is messy, and even the tablecloth on the table onstage is crooked. Tonya’s story begins to unfold as we learn about her childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic mother, who at five-years-old knew she wanted to be a figure skater. She knew that she had a God-given talent, and was fortunate enough to find hers and perfect it through drive and hard work. However, the highly-competitive world of figure skating, and often any sport of this caliber, reveals some real challenges for Tonya, as Nancy is presented as a beautiful girl coming from a nice family, while Tonya is presented more as white trash. Tonya states, “All of your baggage is with you on the ice.” And in the highly-visible sport, the athletes are constantly being judged, and not always solely on their talents, but on who they are, where they’re from, and often what they look like. We later learn the details of her troubled marriage to Jeff Gillooly, the eventual attack on Nancy, the inevitable press attention, her failure to successfully compete in the Olympics, and her difficulty finding work and escaping her fate.
Elser proves to have a mastery of her subject matter. She transitions smoothly from one portion on the story to the next while never losing her essential Tonya-ness. I did feel at times, as Tonya was sipping on her beer, that Elser could have made her progressively drunker, but that did not take away from her ability to express the tragedies of Tonya’s life. The script allowed for a new view on Tonya Harding, and allowed for the audience to feel sympathy for a person who hasn’t always had that emotion bestowed on her.
You can check out “The Love Song of Tonya Harding” at Trident Booksellers and Cafe